Miami-Dade: The brain drain and transit


Over a decade ago, Miami-Dade voters overwhelmingly approved a half-cent tax for a far-reaching transit expansion plan. The plan, dubbed the People’s Transportation Plan, envisioned 88 miles of Metrorail expansion and an expansion of the bus fleet.

It was, and is, Miami-Dade’s best promise for building a functional transit network. Unfortunately, the majority of the promised rail expansion never happened; except for a two-mile connection to the airport, the plan remains an unfulfilled mandate.

It is a story all too common to Miami-Dade residents: Voters are promised one thing, only to have elected officials and county administrators renege on their promises. Documented in the Herald series, Taken for a Ride, voters later learned that the county had squandered the funds and had no intention of paying for the promised expansion.

Watchdog groups like Transit Miami and others continued to report on the misuse of funds, and in 2008 county leaders came clean: MetroRail would not be expanded anytime soon. A recent Facebook post by Miami-Dade Tranist had this to say:

“In 2008, our elected officials admitted publicly  that a half-penny's worth of taxes was not enough to fund the rail lines depicted. Since then the focus has been on bus rapid transit on managed lanes.”

The proposal for Bus Rapid Transit (buses running in dedicated lanes, as in the South Dade Busway) would not have been so bad, except here we are five years later, and still nothing has been done. Regular updates to the plan continue to push back expected dates for new services along Northwest 27th Avenue, Flagler Street and in South Dade. The expansion of the bus fleet was implemented after the PTP was rolled back; we now have fewer buses in service than before the transit tax that promised their expansion.

To add insult to injury, the monies are now being used for highway expansion and managed lanes — the exact opposite of what they were intended. Some of you might recognize the term managed lanes: the lanes on I-95 where those who can afford it pay a premium to speed by the rest of us sitting in traffic. Also called “Lexus lanes,” these have no place being funded by a tax intended for mass transit.

Demographic numbers show that there is a generational change happening in the travel patterns of the American public. Total vehicle miles traveled peaked back in 2007. People are driving less than ever before, and moving back to urban centers. Car ownership rates among the millennial generation dropped 10 percent between 1985 and 2005 ( before the economic crisis). The millennial generation eschews the vision that they need to drive cars to get everywhere and are returning to urban centers, as are baby boomers. The age of suburbia and highway expansion is long dead, yet we are using transit-tax dollars to fund outdated infrastructure.

With so much attention lately on the brain drain it’s time to make the connection between our disconnected transportation network, our ongoing investments in a 1950s-era planning paradigm and the effects on our larger economy.

Locally, we see the effects of this trend in the so-called brain drain — the loss of educated, talented young professionals to cities with better urban amenities and job prospects. How will our economy survive in the coming decades when we are not investing in the infrastructure that most workers demand of their cities?

You only need to look at where most Fortune 500 companies are located — primarily in transit-served cities. In all of South Florida (Miami-Dade/Broward/West Palm) we only have four; Los Angeles alone — a region heavily investing in transit — has 20. Companies are voting with their feet — and avoiding Miami like the plague.

Today more than 45 percent of our population lives on 10 percent of the land. These densities can easily handle high-capacity transit, not to mention that our urban population is growing at an exponential rate.

Healthy cities rely on people walking, biking and taking transit. It is time for our leaders to wake up and deliver on the promise of the People’s Transportation Plan — our economic health depends on it.

Anthony Garcia was the publisher of Transit Miami from 2008 to 2012 and founded MoveMiamiDade, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving transportation in Miami-Dade County.

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